COVID-19 could pave the way for edtech funding, equity

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Funding for educational technology is going to skyrocket now that the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic has revealed how critical it is in maintaining continuity of learning and facilitating impactful education, technology researcher Amber Case told attendees of a virtual conference on Wednesday.

But ensuring that technology supports education for all people will require creativity and a willingness to rethink and redesign technology, she said during the Consortium for School Networking’s annual conference, which was held online this year. Over the past decade, technology has transformed how people live, receive services, connect with each other and learn — but it hasn’t benefited everyone equally, Case said.

“Only a couple of months ago, I was at CES, Consumer Electronics Show, and everybody was talking about 5G and how you’re just going to push so much data through everything,” she said, but added that no one was talking about low bandwidth solutions or rural users.

Now, in the face of a global health crisis, the importance of having technology that can connect everyone and improve peoples’ lives through simplistic design is more evident than before. And for better or worse, the current pandemic has given people the opportunity to make those changes, Case said.

“What was formerly difficult to do will be easier,” she said. “There is going to be such a rush to make things that work really well for everybody.”

Virtual reality, for example, has the potential to make education more immersive and impactful.

“This could be an amazing way to teach physics when you don’t have a lab to deal with dangerous chemicals, to understand how gravity works, to go to other places,” Case said, conceding that in its current form, virtual reality tools are relatively clunky.

The solution to creating technology that works for and supports everyone, Case said, is to focus on the task instead of the tool and to design solutions that are simple and support peoples’ lives without intruding on them.

“A good tool is invisible,” she said. “Not because it’s actually invisible-invisible, but because it doesn’t intrude on your consciousness.”

Ultimately, transforming technology to work for all members of society is not an easy task, she said, and encouraged educators to drive that change without fear of failure.

“We will need to work with limited resources and be clever,” Case said. “We need to all allow ourselves to be amateurs together and experiment and have fun and be unique and allow ourselves to be ourselves. … There are so many teachers and professors and educators that are already using technology in the classrooms and they’re being innovative and they will become rock stars if they’re not too afraid right now to be extreme amateurs and make something and be vulnerable.”

This is part of StateScoop and EdScoop’s special report on coronavirus response. Read the rest of the report.